Cruising the Banged up Banks

Bodie Island Lighthouse

This is a tale of the Good, the Bad, and the compromise. At least once a year I succumb to the urge to travel. Good deals call to me in my dreams and on-line while awake.  The conflict?  Cheap flights to Ecuador and Peru pop up the day after I’m informed that I would be released from my day job in two weeks.  Would I really be that reckless to book either of those trips? Ehh…

The Outer Banks of North Carolina seems like a good compromise.  Just three days for the house/pet sitter, a long drive and off-season post-disaster rates.  Plus, I can stay well-connected, tethered to my phone and e-mail, and tend to the messy business of job creation.  I am sure that this trip will rejuvenate my stifled creativity before I dive in for the next stage of my working life.

Road Closed Ahead

Hurricane Irene washed out a lot of the road, and beach season is pretty much over, but we are hoping to snag some deals while infusing a bit of cash into the local economy.  We already know that we won’t be able to get to Hatteras but Bodie Island and points north emerged from the storm mostly intact so it’s not a total washout.

Though I’ve been all over the western part of the state, I’ve never been to the Outer Banks along the east coast.  My interest was first piqued many years ago when I was a ski reporter living in Woodstock, Vermont.

A coworker came back from a vacation raving about how fabulous it was.  He was so enamored with a BBQ joint called Bubba’s in Hatteras that he ordered two gallons of their BBQ sauce.  At the time, I think we spent $50 plus shipping just for the sauce!

I volunteered my backyard for a party.  We borrowed a giant half 55-gallon drum grill from the tiny jail across the street and got a tent from the town funeral home.

Even though it was a cold, rainy New England day, we managed to cook up the taste of the North Carolina shore with tons of zesty ribs and other pork products.  I think we vicariously enjoyed his vacation almost as much as he had in reality.

Hop in the time machine and set it to twenty years later.  It’s eleven years after moving to this state and we are finally going to go for quick road trip to the Outer Banks.  Well, maybe not so quick for everybody.  Everyone I talk to who has been there warned us that it’s a long drive.  Obviously they have never traveled with Mike and me.

These barrier islands are just a wisp of land in the ocean.  Because they took a beating during Irene, we won’t be able to drive the length of them.  Traffic reports are telling us that truckloads of sand are being brought in to fill the breaches where the road washed away but we are probably a few weeks too early for the speedy completion of these projects.  That’s okay.  We’ll take what we can get.

There are two ways to get to the Outer Banks from home in Charlotte.  We could go south towards Wilmington and work our way north, not knowing how far we would get before having to backtrack because of washed out roads.   Or, we can go through Raleigh and take what looks like back roads from the north.  We opt for door number 2, what looks like a lazier, more meandering route.

In typical Jill & Mike fashion, we don’t have reservations anywhere.  We’re going to wing it and see what kind of deals we can find.  A friend said that Manteo is a town we will fall in love with.  Sounds good to us so that is what we are aiming for when we back out of the driveway.

Our car is packed with way more stuff than we would ever need for this short trip.  How we can travel the world with one small backpack each, but take a road trip and everything must go?  I will never understand.  I suspect the airlines have something to do with this phenomenon.

We finally get on the road at 11:10 am.  By 1:30, we are in Raleigh and hungry.  I have heard that there are some really good Indian restaurants in the area but I can’t remember any names.  I whip out my handy-dandy iPhone and start flipping through my go-to apps, Trip Advisor, Yelp and UrbanSpoon.  Several point us to a place called Royal India.

We almost don’t go in.  It’s in a run down strip mall and snobby me is immediately turned-off.  But after all of the accolades, we decide to try it.

Against our better judgment, we decide that the $8.95 buffet is a better deal than ordering off the menu. Chicken Tikka Masala was an outrageous $16.95 at lunch! That’s even pretty outrageous for dinner.

We’re not big on buffets unless we know the restaurant is busy and has a large turnover of food.  Years ago, I got food poisoning from a salad bar and never want to repeat that experience.  It’s 1:30 and the place is almost empty.  Not a good sign but we try to rationalize by deluding ourselves that maybe we just missed the crowd.

The vats of food have been picked over and are not replenished. The tiny sterno can clearly isn’t keeping the food at the proper temperature because we have to dig to the bottom to get lukewarm food. The naan, (which when good, is like a fluffy, chewy flat bread) is weird: a combination of hard as a cracker and rubbery stale.

I have a few bites of the butter chicken but stick mostly to the veggie dishes. Who are the people who rave about this disgusting mess?  Where are the restaurant inspectors?  As we leave, I hope I don’t die of food poisoning and live to write another blog.  The things we do for my readers!

The final blow is when Mike comes back to the table and informs me delicately that I might want to hold off on an immanent potty break.  Evidently, the men’s room is a little scary.  Enough for me!  I can definitely hold it until we stop down the street for a palate cleanser at the Starbucks.

Back on the road, we are surprised to find that Hwy 64 is mostly freeway all the way to the coast with speed limits sticking to around 70 mph.  Ninety-one miles from Manteo, our route transitions to a limited access highway, dropping the speed limit to 55.  We hit our first stoplight in Jamesville but speeds pick right back up east of town and we are zipping along at 70 again.

Cotton Field

As we go farther east, the countryside opens up to cotton fields and rolling farmland.  We also start to see the lingering effects of Hurricane Irene.  A heap of destruction here, a pile of destruction there.  Tree limbs, house debris, furniture and the occasional pile of someone’s life accomplishments, moldy and ruined on the side of the road waiting for a final trip to the dump.  The destruction is a sober reminder of what happened here just a few weeks before.

Hurricane Irene’s Wake of Destruction

Once we are east of Jamesville we see signs warning us to watch for bears.  There’s even a “Red Fox Crossing” but the only thing we see crossing the road is a wayward turtle.

It’s somewhere around here that we get a call from our house sitter who asks, “Where’s the key?”  Kill me now!  We forgot to leave a key and we are three or four hours away from home!  For a brief moment I start to panic and then remember friends in the neighborhood who have keys to the house and the crisis is averted.  Whew!

The boys anxiously waiting for their beloved sitter to gain entry to the house! (Not really but the picture works!)

After all of the dire warnings about the length of the drive – estimates anywhere from six to nine hours – we pull into the sleepy town of Manteo at 5:15pm.  A mere 6 hours later, including an hour stop for lunch.  That means we did the drive in about 5 hours and we intentionally went the long way through Raleigh.  So for all of the Charlotteans who won’t go because it’s too far, I am here to dispel that myth.  It’s not much longer than a drive from Charlotte to Wilmington, NC.

Though disappointed by the lunch reviews, I insist on relying on my Trip Advisor app to see what people are saying about hotels in Manteo.  About 50 miles out, I start making calls to see if I can wheel and deal for a good rate.

Looking at reviews and the hotel websites, I quickly determine that the Tranquil House Inn is my kind of place.  They have rooms available.  The rate is $189 but the owner is willing to give us a room with a king size bed and water view for $151 plus tax.  I don’t commit.

I also call the Scarborough House Inn, a B&B that has a separate, two-story cottage with a king size bed for a ridiculously low price of $100 a night.  That’s not available but a room in their house is $80.  Sounds reasonable.

We pass the Scarborough House as we roll into to town.  It’s only a few blocks off the main drag but I’m not really impressed.  Downtown Manteo is all closed up at 5:30 on a Monday afternoon.  The Tranquil House is at the end of the main street.  I want to see the rooms.

Tranquil House in Manteo Room 18

The woman at the front desk gives us keys to 3 rooms.  The first is Room 18.  It is bright and sunny with a king size bed and a nice, compact bathroom.  I could be very comfortable here but including tax this one and Room 16, (next door with 2 queen beds) total $151 a night.  Room 20 has a water view and, with the discount starts at $151 plus tax.

The waterfront view from The Tranquil House’s Room 20 – but you have to step outside to see it.

Normally, these rooms would be fine, but, because of the uncertainty of my employment future, we pass.  The Scarborough House Inn is a possibility but I don’t like that they answered the phone with just  “Hello.”  It feels more like an imposition in someone’s house.

It’s not even 6:00pm and the town is cute but a bit too sleepy for us.  We still have a couple of hours of daylight and decide to push on.  I really want to see the wild horses near Corolla. We figure we can get closer so we can do that first thing in the morning.

For fun, I search for a hotel in Nags Head.  I call the Holiday Inn Express and the only room left has 2 double beds and is a smoking room for $109 plus tax.  Nope.  What happened to the off-season, post-hurricane deals I was expecting?

We are not impressed with either Nags Head or Kitty Hawk.  They’re not quite Myrtle Beach SC, which even locals refer to as the Redneck Riviera.  No, both towns don’t quite have that feel on this day but there are a lot of little strip malls and tourist shops along Highway 158.  To the east of this 4-lane road are thousands of giant homes on stilts that are available for rent to beach people.   Mike and I are not beach people so this holds only a mild appeal for us but we can see how, if that’s your thing, it could be a lot of fun.

Wright Brothers Monument

One thing we are interested in is going to see the field where the Wright Brothers flew for the first time.  The National Park Service runs the monument and the gates are closed when we drive by.  We’ll circle back and hit this on the way back.

We still have daylight so we set our sights further north.  Route 12, which runs along the eastern sand dunes, meets up with Highway 158 just south of the town of Duck.  It’s here, on this two-lane coastal country road that the charm of the area starts to shine through.  We are amazed at how heavily forested it is.

The town of Duck seems like it would be more our style so we call the Sanderling Resort and Spa to see what their rates are.  Just as I suspected, it IS our kind of place.  Rooms for this night start at $275 a night and they’re not giving any discounts.  Oh well.

A bit farther north is the Hampton Inn.  It’s right on the dunes and a boardwalk away from the beach.  They have plenty of available rooms for $138 plus tax.  For that kind of money we won’t get an ocean view, but clearly our choices are quickly diminishing along with the daylight.  They have plenty of open rooms so again we don’t commit.  We decide that’s going to be our fallback if we don’t find anything better and push on.

The black stumps in the water ahead are probably remnants of a house reclaimed by the sea.

We pass the Currituck Lighthouse and put that on the list for tomorrow.  We keep driving north until the road suddenly takes a right turn and we are dumped on the beach.  The signs say we can’t stop until we get to the “parking area” a mile and a half-mile up the beach, so we drive.  On the beach! Luckily we have a vehicle with 4-wheel-drive.

The sand is soft and piled high in spots.  Our car struggles here and there but pushes through.  We drop down closer to the water but are losing daylight and occasionally there are wood pilings that presumably were once house foundations now consumed by the sea.

We made it to the parking spot!

By the time we get to the parking area, the light is quickly fading.  We don’t feel safe driving on the beach in the dark so we turn around.  We’re hungry and ready to get a room.

Beach Approach Warning Signs

The one thing that would have really been helpful to know is that we should have dropped the air pressure in all four tires to 15-20 psi (pounds per square inch).  Evidently this provides more surface contact with the sand making it easier to drive.  Yup, that would have been a good thing to know before we went, not after.  Luckily the 4WD in the old Honda cut through the sand and we had enough clearance to not get stuck.  The people driving the Mini Cooper were not so lucky.

Minis are not the car to drive on the beach!

And while I’m at it, if I was Queen of the World I would put up signs warning that there are no more services – gas, tire air or food from this point all the way to the impassable pilings blocking further progress north that are 14 miles ahead.  Useful information before being ushered off the pavement onto the beach.

The pavement is just around the corner on the right.

Back on the paved road, we stop in a little shopping center that has several choices for dinner.  The Fin & Claw Sea Grill is what pulls us in but after looking at the pricey menu we decide that we’re not hungry for a giant meal and keep looking.

Across the parking lot by the gas station is another restaurant.  Even though Miss Snobby (as Mike occasionally refers to me) turns up her nose (“It’s by the gas pumps?!?”), we walk over to take a look at the menu.

Crab Bisque YUM!

The place is called Route 12 Steak & Seafood. We had a late lunch so we aren’t super hungry and decide to graze and split a few appetizers.  A plate of good, crusty bread arrives as we sit down.  We order a bowl of the Crab Bisque and ask for two spoons. Instead, the waitress, on her OWN initiative, splits it into what is really two cups but only charges us for one bowl. Nice.

Route 12 Caesar Salad

The soup, the first of many on this trip, sets the bar very high.  It turns out that this was the best of the trip. It had large lumps of crab for every creamy bite, down to the very last spoonful for both of us.  It was quite tasty.

Route 12 Calamari

We also split a Caesar Salad and the calamari appetizer. The Caesar is unremarkable but fills the craving for greens. The calamari is hand-battered and tender. It comes on a bed of tomato-caper sauce and shredded Parmesan. I don’t want it tossed in the cheese so the waitress brings an extra cup of sauce for me. My husband, who doesn’t like capers, doesn’t like the sauce. I like those little salty buds so I’m happy with it.

Route 12 Bill = Cheap Eats!

Our frugal little dinner, including one Anchor Steam beer comes in just under $26 plus tip, which is about the price of one entrée at the Fin & Claw.  I think it’s quite a good deal for dinner in a resort town.

Mike’s Triple Shot of Ice Cream

Walking back to the car, we spot Big Bucks Ice Cream Shop and have to go in.  It lives up to its name but since dinner was so cheap we splurge.  For $10, I walk out with a scoop of Caramel Cups while Mike goes for the triple-header – Snickers; Chocolate Peanut Butter; and Peanut Butter Fudge & Reese’s Pieces.  You might sense a theme there.

Couple in Love

Now we really are done for the night, so we drive back to the Hampton Inn and check in.  We’re headed for the room waiting for the elevator.  When the doors open, we catch a cute Amish or, more likely, Mennonite couple, who are clearly in love, kissing and having a tender moment.  As they walk down the hall holding hands and gazing at each other, we decide that they must be on their honeymoon. Or, it’s some kind of new kinky costume thing.

Lumpy Bed at the Hampton Inn Corolla – Outer Banks

For $138, we get a nice size room with a king bed, couch and balcony.  The bathroom is large and clean with granite counters.  The bed is not the most comfortable but it’s okay because we are pretty worn out.

View from Hampton Inn – Beach Houses in the distance

In the morning, we see that while we don’t have an ocean view, there is water and in the distance we can see Baum’s Creek and the land beyond.  To the south, across the marshes, there are giant houses as far as the eye can see for the beach people.

At breakfast (Cook your own waffles! Yay!) we thank the table of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) workers for their dedication to helping people in need.  They appreciate the kind words and tell us some disaster stories.

This crew came from a long stint in Alabama where others are still cleaning up after the April tornadoes.  These brave souls move into place before Hurricane Irene blows through so they can be ready to pick of the pieces of people’s lives.  It takes a special kind of person to do that kind of work and here we found a quartet of them.

When we check out we are surprised to learn from one of the clerks, that the hotel is enjoying its best summer ever!  Even with the hurricane and the bad economy.  We are vexed.  How can that be?

Hampton Inn boardwalk to the beach

Before we load up the car again, we walk out the back door to find two pools, one for laps and one for lolling.  In between is a boardwalk that goes over the dunes to the beach.  This is a pretty nice hotel. We take a quick last look and pack it in.  We have big plans for today.

Hampton Inn Beach

The first destination is to make the drive all the way to the end of the beach; about 14 miles of sand each way, in hopes of seeing some of the wild horses.  The Banker Horse breed is strikingly similar to the Spanish Barb and Arabian horses brought to the Outer Banks in the early 1500s.  Fingers crossed that we get to see them grazing on the beach.  I am trying to avoid having to pay for the two-hour tour.

Horses on the beach

This herd’s diet consists of the coarse salt grasses in the marshes and they get fresh water by pawing away the deep sand.  A friend said they appear so malnourished that they look like they have scurvy.  And after surviving the latest burst of harsh weather, I am expecting the worst.

Horse hanging out on the beach!

The clerk at the front desk of the Hampton Inn tells us that our chances of seeing them at the northern end of the beach are pretty good, especially in the morning.  She checks the tide times and we have until about 1:00pm before high tide rolls back in.  As for the horses, she is right!  We happen upon a couple of more curvy than scurvy stallions (And I do mean stallions!) hanging around on the beach.  (And I do mean hanging!) These big guys pose for a few pictures and then saunter off into the dunes.

The ocean inches closer to this house – and this is low tide!

After going to the end of the beach and back, I am amused that within view of the red brick structure that is the Currituck Lighthouse, copies of the Hatteras Lighthouse adorn driveway pillars.  I can’t understand why they are promoting a tourist site 82 miles away instead of the one right in their backyard so we must stop and take a picture as proof.

Striped Hatteras Lighthouse in the shadow pf the Currituck Lighthouse

And that’s the next phallic symbol on our agenda where we are going to climb to the top.  Not so fast.  We stand in line and then find out that they only take cash or CHECKS!  Of course we have neither (Who carries checks anymore?) so we run down the street to the nearest ATM for cash.  With our $7 each in hand, we go back to the end of the line and wait our turn.  Once we sign our lives away, releasing the lighthouse of any responsibility for our well-being, we climb the 214 + 6 steps both up and down.

Currituck Lighthouse

After enduring burning leg muscles, we are rewarded with great views, a nice breeze and weak legs for the rest of the day.  The tight muscles remind us of the climb for several more days.  Buns of steel in the making for sure!

Looking down inside the Currituck Lighthouse

With all of those calories burned, it’s time to re-fuel.  It looks like we passed some interesting looking restaurants in Duck on the way up.  Our waitress last night raved about a place called The Blue Point so we decide to give it a try.

View from the top of the Currituck Lighthouse

At the end of a boardwalk with shops, we are exuberantly welcomed by the hostess who tells us she was happy we are there.  The waitress isn’t quite as warm but she was efficient.

Like the night before, we don’t have the stomach, or the funds, for a large, heavy lunch so we settle on a bowl of soup each and we share the fish special.

The Blue Point’s She Crab Soup

I’m addicted to she-crab soup and want another cup like the one I had last night.  Mike opts for a cup of the cold potato, Vidalia onion soup with a garnish of country ham and tarragon.  He’s not impressed. I think it’s okay but I’m much happier that I ordered the hot she-crab.  But let me be clear, this $10.50 bowl of she crab soup did not stand up to the yummy, crabby bisque I had last night for only $6.29.

The Blue Point’s Potato Onion Soup

Our triggerfish entrée is served over Spanish rice, with sweet corn, tomatoes chives and a dollop of avocado spread.  We divvy it up onto two plates.  It’s nothing remarkable and the portion is pretty stingy for the lunch price of $14.95.

The Blue Point’s Fish Special

Our waitress from last night raved about the desserts at the Blue Point but when given a chance to order something, we pass.  Everything is around $8 or more and the unemployed me is feeling guilty again. We end up spending $32 plus tip for lunch – more than last night’s dinner tab and much less satisfying.

Duck Boardwalk

At the opposite end of the boardwalk is a shop called Candy & Corks.  Mike grabs a bag of six Peanut Butter Malted Milk Balls for $1.25.  I ask for a sliver of chocolate fudge.  There is no way the surly shopkeeper is giving me what I want.  It is going to be what she wants to give me.  Period.  My “sliver” ends up being a ¼ pounder for $5.23.  We (meaning mostly me) eat every bite, which is why I only wanted a sliver.  Enough already.  We are moving on.

We plunk down another $4 each for admission to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Let’s face it.  If these guys didn’t fly, we would all be grounded and travel would take forever, putting a big damper on this blog.  I am obligated to pay my respects to these guys for making it possible to travel like I do.  Inside we find things in this order: Museum, Monument, Monorail, Markers, Monsoon!

Wright Brothers Memorial

There are very dark clouds moving in as we arrive so we decide to do as much as we can outside before its starts to downpour.  We skip the visitor’s center and bolt through the Centennial Pavilion with just a glance at the exhibits.  We slip out a side door and make a dash across the grass towards the monument on the hill.  Our day of phallic-looking sights continues.  As we near the top we start to feel a few drops of rain so we turn back.

The 1st Flight

Only when we cross the five or six hundred yards back towards the monuments and the monorail do we notice signs ordering us to stay off the grass.  Evidently, it has a bunch of cactus mixed in.  Oops.  We hope we didn’t kill any plant life.  Those signs would have been helpful by the pavilion.

Marking the flights

It’s pretty cool to see how these guys tried again and again to work through the mechanics of flight.  There are reconstructions of the original hangar and the cabin they used as a camp.  The monorail shows where the flights started and the monuments where they ended.

Our last stop is where most people start – the visitor center.  Here there are full-scale reproductions of two of their planes and other interesting exhibits.  The sky is darkening and a wall of rain is quickly moving towards us.  Our sprint to the car (on the opposite side of the parking lot) is just a hair late and we’re drenched by the time we get the doors open.  It’s a torrential downpour.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

As soon as we drive out of the park the downpour turns to drizzle.  We want to see how far south we can go.  To continue the theme of the day, we want to check out the Bodie Island Lighthouse that’s fifteen miles to the south.  We step out of the car to take a picture and are immediately swarmed by mosquitoes.  We jump back in the car and spend the next few minutes killing the few who managed to gain access.  No way they are hitching a ride with us and living to tell about it!

We don’t investigate (because of the army of mosquitoes) and it appears that the lighthouse is closed anyway.  It looks like it might have sustained some hurricane damage at the top.

Oregon Inlet Bridge Closed

A few miles south we come to the end of the road at Oregon Inlet.  Police have the bridge blocked so we turn around.  The FEMA folks told us that it was difficult to get supplies to the people on the cut-off islands.  While it’s possible for us to get a ferry, we hear food and services are scarce.  While we want to help the local economy, we feel we would be more of hindrance and decide to check out a couple of other eastern North Carolina towns we’ve read about.

We thought we could drive along the water as we head south but Highway 264 is closed to local traffic only.  The only choice is to backtrack to Jamesville on Highway 64 and then cut down on 17 past Washington to New Bern.

Hurricane Destruction

On the way we snap some shots of some damaged and destroyed homes.  Between Washington and New Bern there were lots of massive trees that had been blown over and uprooted.  It must have been frightening for the people who had to ride out the hurricane here.

I’ve seen some articles about New Bern that sounds promising.  Quaint downtown area and it’s on the water.  Sounds like a good place to end the day so I start hunting for a place to stay.

Reminiscent of our trip to Stockholm, every place I call is full.  How can that be?  It’s a Tuesday night in late September in New Bern, NC?  It’s not exactly high season.  As it turns out, the Hilton only has one building open because of hurricane damage in the other one and all available rooms are full.  There’s also a golf tournament in town so that has brought in some visitors.

The Comfort Suites?  Full.  The Aerie House Bed & Breakfast has 2 rooms available.  One is $179 and the other – the Hidden Room is $169 but the owner is willing to drop the price to $152 plus tax.  I ask her if she would do it for $130 but she was a no-go.  We keep this in mind as a last resort.

Sensing that we could have a long night ahead of us, driving further out to find a room more reasonably priced room, we decide to grab some coffee at Port City Java.  The incredibly helpful barista points us down the street where there are several B&Bs.

The Hanna House

I call the Hanna House and Joe offers us the Lincoln Room with a queen-size bed for $109 or the German Mill Room with a king-size for $150.  Both come with breakfast.  That’s more like it.  We’ll take the Lincoln Room.  It’s super clean with a nice firm bed and a small but workable bathroom.  It has a pressed tin ceiling that is great in theory but reflects any ambient light when the room is supposed to be dark.

Our room in the Hanna House

Camille and Joe moved to New Bern from New York.  She’s a retired dental hygienist.  The couple is able to keep their costs low because they do almost all of the work themselves and don’t have to pay employees.

Tin Ceiling

After talking politics and comparing lives in the north and south, and generally getting to know each other a bit, we get down to the business of deciding what we want for breakfast in the morning.  I choose the shrimp & grits.  Mike orders the egg baked in puff pastry topped with a roasted red pepper sauce.  He also wants to share an Apple Dutch Baby but I pooh-pooh it thinking it is way too much food.  He can order two entrees but I’m not going to be sucked in.  I don’t need the calories that I’ve already ordered.

The Chelsea

All this talk of food has our tummies rumbling.  Joe and Camille tell us that The Chelsea is the best restaurant choice on this night.  They say there is another great place but it’s closed tonight.  The Chelsea is within walking distance, just 2 ½ blocks away.

Mmmm. Wine.

The hostess, Gina, greets us warmly and whisks us upstairs to a table by the window.  A tree partially blocks the view but we enjoy the location.  We start with a reasonably priced ($30) bottle of a 2008 Zenato Valpolicella red wine.  Tasty but could have been a bit cooler.

Curry Cocoanut Sauce Sample

By then we are overwhelmed by the potential choices for dinner.  There are many things that sound good.  One is Cocoanut Scallops.  Gina offers to bring us a sample of the sauce before we decide.  It has a strong cocoanut milk flavor maybe bordering on a slightly Thai curry.  It’s okay but not what I have in mind so I will look for something else.

What’s left of the Portabella Fries.

Portabella Fries ($7.50) sound interesting.  Slices of portabella mushrooms lightly battered with a thick cold horseradish sauce that only has a hint of horseradish every few bites.  I am hoping for lots of horseradish flavor but they are still very good.  Very light for something that’s fried.  We inhale them and it is only an afterthought to take a picture.  The picture doesn’t do the dish justice.

The Cheese Cake

By then we were really having a hard time deciding what to order.  My husband chooses the $21 Cheese Cake.  It comes in a bowl with a wedge of “cheese cake” which is made in a springform pan with “cheesecake ingredients without the sugar” and some angel hair pasta thrown in for good measure.  Then they ladle on 9 nice sized sweet shrimp and 3 very tender sweet scallops, some crumbled chorizo, scallions, mushrooms, and tomatoes.  If that’s not a heart attack in the making yet, they top it off with lobster sauce.  He decides it is comfort food at it’s best and it makes it to his top 10 All-Time Best Dinners list.

“Famous Cream of Crab Soup”

I’m not quite as lucky.  I didn’t like the cup of “Famous Cream of Crab” soup ($5.95) – My excellent version the day before at Route 12 in Corolla made me jaded.  This one had a floury or some kind of thickener aftertaste.  I send it back and it is quickly taken off the bill.

Crab Cake & Grits

By then I just cannot make a decision and my appetite is waning.  Not in the mood for a heavy meal I have the appetizer portion of a Crab Cake and Creamy Grits ($11.50) for my main course.  The crab cake has a nice kick of spice from the Chesapeake remoulade and the grits are indeed creamy.

The Chelsea Tab – not bad since almost half was the wine!

Service is very attentive albeit a bit amateurish by our waiter Randall.  But to his credit, when he doesn’t know the answer to our questions, he quickly finds someone who does.  Gina comes to his rescue and runs up and down those stairs to make sure we are happy.  This is a great recommendation on a rainy Tuesday night by our hosts at the Hanna House B&B.

We tell Camille that we would like breakfast at 7:30.  We were anxious to check out the town and then get on the road.  Downstairs, we greet 3 other guests at the table.  Breakfast starts with coffee, juice, fruit cups and homemade scones followed by Mike’s herbed eggs en croute with red pepper sauce and bacon and my shrimp & grits with a toasted corn muffin.


My choice is good.  Not the best I’ve ever had but it’s definitely a good version of this iconic southern dish.  Mike doesn’t love his after finding the pastry dough is raw in the middle and the egg seems like it was just whites and not a whole egg.  In retrospect, he should have gone with the Apple Dutch Baby.  He probably would have been happier.

Mike’s eggs en croute

Our tablemates are interesting until we started talking politics.  Politics can be a great table clearer when everyone doesn’t see eye to eye as is the case this morning.  After the businessmen, leave, a couple visiting for a funeral join us.  These Christian missionaries have some interesting tales of travel.  This time we steer clear of politics, add religion to the list of forbidden topics and enjoy the rest of our breakfast.

Hanna House Shrimp & Grits

The plan is to check out and spend some time exploring the town.  Camille gives a few tips and also tells us how much fun the area is around Halloween with the Ghost Walk being the highlight event.  We’ll keep that in mind for another time.

The Tryon Palace

For today, the Tryon Palace comes highly recommended. It’s the former home of Royal Governor William Tryon built in 1770 as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina.  It was destroyed by fire in 1798 and now stands the rebuilt version.

While I like to check out interesting historical sites when I can, this unemployed girl cannot justify $15 each for a one-day pass to the grounds, homes and galleries.  So Mike and I do the next best thing and walk around the perimeter.  A peek here and a peek there are going to have to suffice.

Metcalf Street Odd Angled Houses

There is enough to satisfy us and in the process we find an interesting clump of houses on Metcalf Street that are all strangely angled from the street.  Some seem to offer tours but again, we are trying to conserve our cash.

The Birth of Pepsi

Our last stop in town is back in the quaint downtown area where we stop in at the birthplace of Pepsi.  At the fountain in the drug store on the corner of Pollock and Middle Streets, visitors can buy a variety of souvenirs while sipping the iconic drink.

Beaufort, NC (Pronounced Boh-fort like the French pronunciation)

We are itching to get back on the road.  We decide to see as much as possible but sleep in our own bed tonight.  I am just not in the right frame of mind to enjoy this trip.

Tourists in line for sightseeing boat

Beaufort is a seaside town less than an hour away just across the water from Morehead CityFront Street is filled with tourists.  The lines are long to get on sightseeing boats with several different companies.  Again we are surprised by all of the disposable income people have.

More Beaufort Tourists in Line

Evidently tourist spots have escaped the scrutiny of the news directors and economists of the world.  We take a peek inside the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which, in addition to the exhibits, offers free, clean bathrooms.  It’s too early for lunch and we’re pretty much done.

We decide to take the road that runs down a barrier island called Bogue Banks.  The island is so developed that we only catch occasional glimpses of the ocean.  Back on the mainland we take back roads to Charlotte.  For our final salute to eastern North Carolina, we pass the Marine base of Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville and the Army’s Fort Bragg in Fayetteville before approaching Charlotte from the southeast.

Happy to be home, we agree that the stallions are the highlight of the trip.  This is a good way to clear my head and re-energize the creative juices for the next phase of my life. With the Outer Banks checked off our list we are free to roam to more exotic places in the future.

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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1 Response to Cruising the Banged up Banks

  1. Pingback: Barbara Jean’s Restaurant | Journeys By Jill

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